The Merry Makers

Lev Leytzan, a medical clown troupe, creates joy in the month of Adar and every month of the year.

A prancing clown is the mascot of Adar, our happiest month. Purim is the time our nation went from the “oy” of near annihilation to the joy of national salvation. We celebrate by letting joy permeate our bodies and souls. We spread joy by giving edible gifts to friends and we remember the poor; they too should be happy on this day.

This is the day we celebrate the power of levity, a power that has been harnessed year-round by our very special non-profit organization — Lev Leytzan: The Heart of Therapeutic Clowning. Lev Leytzan is a cadre of therapeutic clowns trained extensively to bring joy to those in dire straits, to those who are in situations where there is little to smile about. Lev Leytzan medical clowns range between the ages of 13 and 65.

If someone is terminally ill, what could a clown possibly do to cheer them up?  “Levity makes the recipient forget their hardships for a while and lets them concentrate on spontaneous fun,” said Yoni Katz, a senior at DRS Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere, L.I. Katz has been a clown in Lev Leytzan for five years.

Once he walked into a hospital room and began interacting with those around him while a little girl cautiously watched his antics from her bed. The face of this small 7-year-old girl who could hardly breathe lit up with an enormous smile. “A patient in a hospital is scared, probably petrified of procedures to be done, feeling that life is spiraling completely out of control, a lone figure in a huge hospital bed,” said Katz. “In walks a Lev Leytzan medical clown, trained to be attuned to the patient’s needs, willing to interact in a way that will best help the patient. Suddenly, the dreaded hospital environment is forgotten. A magical person!” Someone who has come to do what the patient wants without an agenda of tests and procedures. Not the serious-faced doctors with worrisome predictions – a clown with a ducky tie and balloons! Smiles appear as the grim reality of the hospital fades away momentarily.

Sam Cohen in his Lev Laytzan uniform. Case in point: “I’m usually the kind of clown that talks a lot — a lot of banter and silliness accompanies my physicality and spontaneity,” said Sam Cohen. On a recent hospital visit, he approached a room packed with non-English speakers. “I began to speak gibberish with the family and found a marvelous and playful way of including a room full of people,” he said.  

The young patient, diagnosed with a terminal illness, was rolling with laughter as Sam placed over a dozen pairs of latex gloves on each person and hair nets upon their heads and started putting them to work. “They were my medical assistants and our combined effort was to do something medical — well, more like messy and silly,” he said. “The combination of gibberish, and my exaggerated actions transformed the space into a fantasy playground. Working so hard and creatively reinforced my appreciation of the impact of our work and our connection with people.”

Another girl lay in a hospital bed, connected to a maze of tubes that needed constant monitoring. Lev Leyzan clowns pretended she was a princess with multiple contraptions attached to her. Somehow, the tubes were not that scary anymore.

“The fun feeling remains with me even after I take off my costume and reenter the ‘real world’,” said Eli Pollack, a senior at Mesivta Ateres Yaakov in Lawrence, L.I. “Clowning has changed the way I view life. Every moment on this earth is fleeting and I better make the most of it … in fact, it is written – ivdu es Hashem b’simcha – God actually commanded us to have a certain measure of levity, especially while serving Him.” Pollack’s alter ego is Chipper the Clown whose cheeks are rosy red and whose striped tie and shirt are mismatched. Eli Pollack dressed as Chipper the Clown.

“To see people conquering obstacles that to me seem insurmountable can really change your outlook on life,” said Sam Cohen, a sophomore at Mesivta Rambam in Lawrence, L.I. “It makes the challenges I face seem extraordinarily easy. It also makes me feel thankful. Thankful for my health, my family’s health and my friends’ health.” 

Dr. Neal Goldberg of Lawrence founded Lev Leytzan in 2004. In 2011 the organization’s clowns visited nearly 8,500 people in hospitals and nursing homes in the United States, Israel, Hungary, Germany and Romania.

Lev Leytzan has changed the lives of its clowns and its audiences. It has proven that joy is therapeutic to all. In this month of Adar, let us reflect on the multiple joys in our lives and spread the cheer in a thoughtful, compassionate way. Lev Leytzan is a perfect model of how that can be done.

Levity should not be limited to Adar; our medical clowns bring levity to medical settings year-round. You could bring levity to your relationships and activities that you participate in—happiness is contagious and goes a long way in changing people’s attitudes.

For more information about Lev Leytzan go to levleytzan.org, send an e-mail to neal@levleytzan.org or call (516) 612-3264.

author's bio: 
Sam Cohen is a sophomore at Mesivta Rambam in Lawrence, L.I. Yoni Katz is a senior at DRS Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere, L.I. Eli Pollack is a senior at Mesivta Ateres Yaakov in Lawrence, L.I.